But Why Is “Depublishing” Cool Among Publishers Now?Publishers now Cancel their own books in a righteous fury!
Withdrawing books instead of defending them is now “cool” because the industry has changed. Now, often, it’s about currying favor with government and powerful people, not with helping readers understand the world around us.
To consider what’s changed, take one uproar around a biography of novelist Philip Roth (1933–2018) by a U.S. author Bill Bailey:
Several women accused Bailey of predatory behavior. At a Louisiana private school where he had once taught English, he was said to have “groomed” eighth-graders for later of-age seductions to rape. And a woman said that Bailey had raped her at the home of a mutual friend who—in one of the scandal’s myriad ironies—was a book reviewer for the New York Times. In no time, W.W. Norton yanked the book out of print. An 861-page tome proudly displayed in the window of my local independent bookstore just days earlier had been abruptly cancelled. “The Roth bio goes meta,” the novelist Lucinda Rosenfeld posted on Facebook. / The knock on the biography, as expressed in the New Republic among other legacy organs striving for wokeness, is that Bailey went soft on Roth’s sexual history. The magazine’s reviewer, Laura Marsh, echoed the prevailing view that Roth regarded women as necessary evils to service his outsize ego/libido, and he was a philanderer who stretched the limits of May–December romances to… whatever you call it when he’s 73 and she’s 29. Then dropped the manna from Roth-hater heaven: Of course Bailey was okay with Roth’s “misogyny”—he’s a perv himself!” At one time, these were issues addressed in the review pages. Publishers did not think of withdrawing the book because of the reviewers’ alleged misdeeds.Rick Marin, “The Roth Biography Scandal Should the subject be blamed for the biographer” at Commentary (June 2021)
It had nothing to do with the works of the author under discussion. But today, many publishers, not just Norton, would dutifully prostrate themselves before the aggrieved, withdraw the book, and await a beating.
A US senator, Josh Hawley, recently faced “depublishing” of his book, The Tyranny of Big Tech, by Simon and Schuster. It was Canceled on account of the Capitol Riot in which he, in fact, took no part. The book remained a bestseller with another publisher, hastily arranged. It is still in the Top Ten in relevant categories. The title speaks for itself.
Yes, publishing has certainly changed. Who needs governments to censor books when Woke companies are eager to do their work for them? Canadian commentator Frank Furedi notes that “publishing is fast becoming a career choice for ambitious would-be censors.” He goes on to say,
Calls for censorship by freelance inquisitors working in publishing have also been busy in the United States. Employees at Simon & Schuster recently filed a petition insisting that the publisher sever its ties with writers associated with the Trump administration. The petition, signed by 216 employees, gained the support of over 3,500 external supporters, including well-known black writers such as the two-time winner of the National Book Award for Fiction, Jesmyn Ward.
When well-known writers join the queue of enthusiastic censors, it becomes evident that American literary culture is in trouble.
One of the targets of the Simon & Schuster inquisitors is a two-book deal that the company signed with former Vice-President Mike Pence. Since they believe that Pence”s opinions are not as valid as theirs, shutting down one of the leading voices of the Republican Party is a public service to society.
One of the most disturbing features of the inquisitorial movement in the publishing industry is the casual manner with which it seeks to corrupt the ideals of tolerance and free speech.
It is worth noting that the letter sent to The Bookseller is titled “The Paradox of Tolerance”. Since it rejects tolerance for views with which it disagrees – it states, “it is clearly not appropriate to say simply ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’” – it should be titled “The Case for Intolerance”!Frank Furedi, “Who needs governments to censor books when woke companies do their work for them” at MercatorNet (May 12, 2021)
Almost certainly, one cause of the new epidemic of intolerance is that the economics of information has changed. At one time, information was precious and risky. Think of monks transcribing the ancient classics (Plato and Aristotle), huddled in monasteries fear of barbarians.
Today, information is a tidal wave, most of which we don’t even need. Do you really care what Madonna or Hawaii Five-O are doing now? Why? Still, you should have the right to know.
It’s relatively easier than it ever was in history to find out what we want to know via skilled internet searches. That made the field ripe for publishers to curry favor with important entities by censoring various sources. People will just find other ways to get there.
A key cultural change is that the sort of people who would once have been picketing libraries for free speech are now demanding the removal of books contrary to their views. For example, activists demand the removal of Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage. Shrier has recently gained notoriety over her defense of the term mother. As in “Mother’s Day.”
Yes, it has come to that. The last defense of information is the defense of a free internet.
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See also: Fighting back against Cancel Culture with Douglas Murray. We may need to start asking ourselves some hard questions. Do educational institutions we support sponsor crackdowns on independent thinking? It may be time to find out.
In Big Tech World: the journalist as censor, hit man, and snitch. Glenn Greenwald looks at a disturbing trend in media toward misrepresentation as well as censorship.